‘Tools of Russia’: FBI raid on black political party seen as part of ‘Black Scare/Red Scare’ in the US

Afro-Colombians from northern Cauca during the national strike of May 2021 (Twitter/Renaissance)

Mobilizations took to the streets of Colombia on April 28 in a national strike to protest against social injustice and the aggressive tax reforms proposed by the government of Iván Duque. Student movements, trade unions, youth organizations, feminist groups and movements of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples marched, blocked roads and organized cultural activities in urban centers and rural territories across the country, exercise their right to peaceful protest. But the state was quick to respond with violent repression, especially in major cities like Cali, Bogotá, Palmira and Popayán.

Although the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, isolated incidents of looting and violence have been used as an excuse to use excessive force against protesters. Media discourse around “good protesters” and “bad protesters” legitimizes this response. Numerous reports of infiltrators being used to provoke violence and looting, as seen in previous strikes in the country. The armed forces reportedly stood idly by and allowed looting to take place, only to respond to such incidents with violent repression.

Rather than responding to citizen demands against tax reform and social injustice, the state responded with militarization, turning peaceful protests into scenes of war. Helicopters fly over protest points and communities, while tanks smash through the city’s narrow streets.

Several cities are occupied by four armed state actors:

  1. armed police,
  2. Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (ESMAD, or National Police Mobile Anti-Riot Squads),
  3. military forces and
  4. Grupo Operativo Especial de Seguridad del Cuerpo Nacional de Policía (GOES, or National Police Security Special Task Force).

Instead of seeking to pacify the situation and protect citizens, these forces have increasingly threatened security, peace and human rights.

Gross human rights abuses

Innumerable videos Recorded by protesters and bystanders circulate daily on social media, showing instances of police brutality, indiscriminate shooting and the use of tear gas inside barrios that contain children and the elderly. Over the past few days, violence has taken on a new face in Cali, with plainclothes police present and reports of unmarked cars carrying out drive-by shootings at protesters.

The non-governmental organization Indepaz, based in Bogotá, reports that the following events took place between April 28 and May 8:

  • 47 murders (the majority of which were young adults and 4 of which were minors),
  • 12 cases of sexual violence,
  • 28 eye injuries,
  • 1,876 acts of violence,
  • 963 arbitrary detentions and
  • 548 enforced disappearances.

Reports are circulating of people arrested and denied destination information, violating their due process rights and putting them at risk of arbitrary detention, cruel and inhuman treatment and enforced disappearance.

Armed police threatened lawyers and human rights defenders when investigating missing persons at police stations. The international community became aware of the gravity of the situation when, on May 3, members of a humanitarian mission including UN and state officials were attacked by armed police while waiting to be rescued. enter a police station in search of missing persons. On April 7, while a humanitarian mission was taking place north of Calí with the presence of Senator Alexander Lopez, a drive-by shooting took place, injuring one person and killing three.

The Racialization of State Repression

The violence and repression have a disproportionate impact on black communities, only mirroring the ongoing internal armed conflict in Colombia. For example, 35 of the 47 murders reported by Indepaz took place in Cali, which is home to the second largest population of African descent in South America. It’s no surprise that structural and systemic racism runs deep in Calí. Many of the most aggressive instances of state violence have been perpetrated in neighborhoods with predominantly or large populations of African descent, treating communities as enemies of war. Historically, these barrios have suffered from socio-economic exclusion, further reinforced by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural racism and state violence. Many inhabitants of the barrio have already been victims of forced displacement, having fled the armed conflict in the predominantly Afro-descendant regions of the north of the Cauca department, in which Calí is located, and of the Pacific coast.

While official statistics do not reveal the proportion of black victims in this current wave of police brutality due to a lack of disaggregated data, photos of the victims clearly show the disproportionate impact on young men of African descent.

Racial profiling not only underpins state violence, but is at the heart of denial of state responsibility and impunity. Already, discussions around gang violence and existing urban conflict are being used to question whether many of these young men participated in the protests or were criminals killed in the context of daily violence in their communities. This discourse undoubtedly seeks to reduce the number of protest-related deaths, simultaneously justifying the deaths of young black men. The first recorded death in Cali was in the predominantly black neighborhood, Marroquin II, where a 22-year-old man was killed. But the army later denied that his death was linked to the protests.

Militarization, imperialism and protests

The current situation in Colombia cannot be understood in isolation from the broader armed conflict and the deepening neoliberal agenda backed and supported by the United States and multinational corporations that prey on Colombia’s natural resources. American imperialist interests in the region have been clear since the late 19th century, with the attempted invasion of Colombia’s neighbor Panama in 1885 and the start of the Panama Canal project in 1904. In 1948, the Organization of American States was created during a meeting in Colombia.

Colombia has been the strategic point of Washington’s political, economic and military operations in recent decades. Thanks to American technical and logistical support, Colombia is today one of the greatest military powers in the region. With the signing of the Colombia Plan in 1999 and the Patriot Plan in 2002, the American military presence and influence only deepened.

Moreover, US military support has always depended on state policies that benefit US imperial interests. For example, in 2009, the United States signed an agreement with the Uribe government to be able to operate from seven Colombian military bases. Although this agreement was blocked by the Constitutional Court, the Santos government subsequently reached alternative bilateral agreements. These enabled the bases to be accessed and used in practice, and further facilitated the unsuccessful and dangerous strategy of spraying illicit crops with the herbicide, glyphosate. All of this supports the “enemy within” ideology and terrorist threat that underpinned the initial emergence and expansion of paramilitarism in the 1980s.

It is precisely this model of paramilitarism that the Colombian state is using in the context of the current protests, particularly in Cali, where state agents, often without proper identification, are collaborating with civilians to shoot and kill protesters in from high-end cars. The Indigenous Guard, which accompanied the protests in Cali, suffered several such attacks, the most recent on May 9, when eight people were injured.

This violent state repression is another consequence of imperialist intervention and the neoliberal extractivist project that uses militarism to eliminate a historically racialized population that it sees as residual as well as a threat to the white supremacist capitalist order.

Esther Ojulari is a human rights and racial justice activist and sociologist. She holds a doctorate. candidate at the University of London, writing on transitional justice and reparations for people of African descent in Colombia. She worked for eight years as a consultant to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the rights of people of African descent. Esther is currently Regional Coordinator in Buenaventura, Calí and North Cauca for the Council for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES). She is a member of several international Afro-descendant and African-led networks and coalitions.

Harrison Cuero Campaz is an Afro-Colombian rights activist. He holds a doctorate. Candidate writes on sustainability in urban and regional planning for biologically and culturally diverse territories. He is a social activist and member of the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, or Black Communities Process). Harrinson is currently working as the regional representative of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) and as the coordinator for the formulation of the Buenaventura District Special Territorial Plan 2021-40.